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Source: Jakarta Globe

The government has launched an investigation into alleged looting by shipwreck salvage diver Michael Hatcher, who has a long history with Indonesia and is believed to be operating on a new discovery.

Aji Sularso, an official with the National Committee for the Salvage and Utilization of Valuable Objects from Sunken Ships (Pannas BMKT), said on Wednesday it had established a joint investigation team comprising related government institutions. “We are investigating the case,” Aji said.

He was responding to complaints by the Consortium for Rescuing National Assets (KPAB), which alleged the government had not responded to its report regarding Hatcher, who may hold both British and Australian passports.

Endro Soebekti Sadjilman, from the KPAB, said he had solid evidence of the alleged looting.

“We’ve heard he’s in Blanakan waters near Pamanukan in Subang [West Java],” he said. “The government must arrest him.”

Daniel Nafis, from the Institute for Strategic Interest and Development (INSIDe), a member of the consortium, claims Hatcher’s illegal salvage missions in Indonesia began with the discovery of the wreck of the Vec De Geldermalsen in East Bintan, Riau Islands, from which he recovered Chinese porcelain that was auctioned for $20 million.

That mission prompted the Indonesian government to establish Pannas BMKT, to monitor all salvage missions.

In 1999, Hatcher raised 365,000 porcelain items from the wreck of the Chinese junk Tek Sing, which ran aground off southern Sumatra in 1822, constituting the biggest find of its type ever.

On that mission, Nafis said, Hatcher worked with local operator PT Pratama Cakra Dirga.

“The government only found out about it from Australian customs officials,” he said. “They said 43 containers of porcelain were ready to be sent to Germany.”

In both cases, Hatcher’s destruction of the wrecks to get to the cargo drew the ire of the culture-heritage community.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea recognizes the “preferential rights” (and not claims) of the country of origin, cultural origin or historical/archeological origin, leaving a legal quandary over who can claim shipwrecks or their cargoes.

Since 2008 Hatcher has been seen in Blanakan with operator PT Comexindo Usaha Mandiri, which was only permitted to survey the area from 2009, Nafis said, meaning surveys before then were illegal.

“We have a copy of a letter from the local naval commander saying Hatcher’s and Comexindo’s activities there are illegal,” Nafis said.

“We filed a complaint with the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries on April 14, but they haven’t done anything yet.”

Illegal salvaging is punishable under the 2002 Cultural and Heritage Objects Law by up to five years in prison and Rp 50 million ($5,500) in fines.

Former military intelligence officer Multo Wibisono said unchecked salvaging could draw in local officials and servicemen.

“My concern is that Navy personnel will go along to loot these national treasures,” he said.

Jhohannes Marbun, from the People’s Advocacy for Cultural Heritage, said local officials were likely on the take, pointing out Hatcher had never been denied entry into the country, despite being on the intelligence watch list.

(Markus Junianto Sihaloh)